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Wisdom, Culture, and Personality Development

Updated on July 15, 2010

Wisdom is the only path that can reconcile the paradox of either a one-sided objective rationalism and materialism or a one-sided subjective eros gone wild. Sternberg emphasizes the need for recognizing the construct of wisdom in understanding and facilitating intelligence (Sternberg, 2007). Stalin and Hitler are cited as examples of leaders who embodied intelligence, even creativity, but without wisdom. Sternberg defines wisdom as “the use of successful intelligence, creativity, and knowledge as mediated by values to (a) seek to reach a common good (b) by balancing intrapersonal (one’s own), interpersonal (others’), and extrapersonal (organizational, institutional, and/or spiritual) interests (c) over the short and long term to (d) adapt to, shape, and select environments” (Sternberg, 1998b, 2003b: as cited in Sternberg, 2007, pg. 38). Applications of wisdom are required in order to overcome the “disenchantment of the world” so coined by Max Weber in reference to the rationalistic emphasis of our cultural constructs of such things as health, psychology, education, definitions of intelligence, and the overall valuing of the individual aspects of diversity and multiculturalism (Whan, 1999). Character and personality, cognition and intelligence are first of all built up within the individual, from within. An emphasis on only the external value negates the reality of the necessity of a building process that must begin within each individual. Narcissism is not just an individual disorder, but narcissism in an overt emphasis of materialism creates a unhealthy context for societies as a whole. “Fundamentally, this comprises the increasing rationalization and bureaucratization of everything. It is a programme of the Enlightenment, whereby rationalism comes to dominate all spheres of human and natural life” (Whan, 1999, pg. 314).

We are in the midst of a current cultural crisis of a “rupture between the soul and the world” (Whan, 1999, pg. 310). Personality development is based upon individual subjectivity. No path in exactly alike. Theories of personality provide us with objective generalities that are useful for understanding the diverse influences of personality development, but in application the context of each individual’s inner subjective realm is key to understanding the level of development and the steps required in order to promote growth. We might label this individualized path of personality development, “soul”. Psychoanalytic theories preserve the value of soul.

The relationship and relatedness (eros) of psychology and psychotherapy to the world is fundamentally a preservation of soul (Whan, 1999). Psychoanalysis in particular mediates the experience of psychic reality with objective rationality through the use of myth, images, and symbol. Personal subjectivity is not easily communicated through a strict adherence to rational verbal discourse. “The nature of ‘the psychological subject’ is unlike the ‘subject-matter’ of the natural sciences, since psychology and psychotherapy cannot rid themselves of either the subjective or the psychic” (Whan, 1999, pg. 313).

“Jung (1964) connects the loss of nature’s soul with a ‘madness’ in the Western psyche” (as cited in Whan, 1999, pg. 319). Psychology has the opportunity and the responsibility to adamantly proclaim the need for soul in the therapeutic relationship, as well as, throughout the broader institutionalized forms of educational, social, cultural, economic, political, and organizational contexts. “This call to social justice is one that was well understood in the prophetic work of thinkers like Erich Fromm and Alfred Adler” (Gruba-McCallister, 2007, pg. 191).

Historically and traditionally definitions of intelligence have been misused for elitist purposes of discrimination. Classifying according to narrow limits of intelligence contributed to Nazism and Hitler. Sternberg’s (2006) research and statements regarding his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence which includes the practical, analytic, and creative integrated with the internal world of a person, experience, and the external world (Sternberg, 2006) provide one solution to including the work from psychoanalysis in a practical application of operationalized guidance from the harder to define concepts of myth, images, and symbol. Sternberg states that in light of his research and findings there needs to be a change in the assessment of intelligence. “Current measures of intelligence are somewhat one-sided. They measure mostly analytic abilities. They involve little or no assessment of creative and practical aspects of intelligence” (Sternberg & associates, 2000; Wagner, 2000, as cited by Sternberg, 2006, pg. 512). A current practical, creative, realistic and objective paradigm for improving understanding and applications of theories of intelligence could be a combination of Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (Sternberg, 2006). Gardner’s conceptualization of multiple intelligence include the categories of visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.

Our cultural theories of intelligence do not just affect education. Intelligence parameters are an aspect of understanding personality development and the best ways for our society to foster healthy personality in the workplace, the schools, and organizations in general. It will require wisdom to learn how to adapt the research and learning from the psychoanalytic schools of thought to practical application. These processes of psychoanalytic theory that are described as such things as analogy, parable, myth, archetype, symbol, anecdote, and metaphor are related concepts that can be operationalized in many ways and across multiple domains. Some of the ways this essay presents for operationalizing psychoanalytic theory to other domains are through such things as the concepts of soul, wisdom, creativity, valuing, diversity, context, stages and levels of development, internal verses external learning, subjectivity, multiple forms of intelligence, and applications of diverse ways of learning, knowing, teaching, and leading.


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Gruba-McCallister, F. (2007, June). Narcissism and the empty self: To have or to be. Journal of Individual Psychology , 63 (2), 182-192. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from PsycINFO database.

Sternberg, R.J., (2007). A systems model of leadership: WICS. American Psychologist. 62 (1). 34-42.

Sternberg, R. (2006). Cognitive psychology. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Whan, M. (1999, December). Registering psychotherapy as an institutional neurosis: Or, compounding the estrangement between soul and world. European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling and Health , 2 (3), 309-323. Retrieved October 11, 2008, doi:10.1080/13642539908400815



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